Healthy Living

How is Head Lice Diagnosed?

How is Head Lice Diagnosed?

Key Takeaways

  • Presence of a live louse is the sole indication of head lice infestation.
  • Do a check up on all your family members for head lice. All infected people should be treated simultaneously.
  • Head lice are highly infectious, especially in school children.

Head lice are small insects found on the skin of the human scalp, eyebrows and eyelashes. Head lice are most commonly found among children but can also be seen on adults. They are generally harmless and can stay and live in the hair for a long time if left untreated.

Head lice usually display no symptoms for most people. However, its most common and usual symptom is an itchy scalp which does not offer relief even after constant scratching. The itchy scalp caused by the lice could be worse in the areas behind your ears or on the back of your neck. For some people suffering from head lice, constant scratching of the scalp for relief can make the skin become sore which can cause further infections. Another symptom of lice could be nits that are stuck to the hair as they grow out. If you happen to have nits then you should check for head lice. Many people also report the sensation of feeling like something is in their hair. Another symptom of lice is a rash on the back of your neck. While an itchy scalp could indicate the presence of head lice, it can also be due to dandruff or other reasons and hence the diagnosis should be confirmed with the help of other symptoms.

Causes of Head Lice

Head lice damage head-hair by laying small eggs (which resemble fall-offs of dandruff) on it. However, they do not fall off. Instead, they remain attached to the hair.

The lifespan of head lice on a person could be up to one month. Their eggs can survive for over 14 days.

Head lice are highly infectious, especially on school children. The insects are mostly found in areas that are closed and congested.

The following are possible causes of head lice infestation:

  • Contact with an infected person
  • Touching infected clothes, bedding or furniture
  • Sharing sanitary products and items such as combs, hairbrushes, etc with someone who has lice

 Though it does not cause serious medical issues, head lice infestation may cause severe itching and irritation. However, they do not transmit diseases.

Poverty and poor sanitation do not cause head lice infection.

Head Lice Diagnosis

•    Presence of a live louse is an indication of head lice infestation.

•    A detection comb is the most effective way of noticing head lice.

•    Detection combs are unique combs with thin teeth. You can purchase them online, pharmacy or a supermarket. The best comb is the one whose teeth have a flat face and 0.2- 0.3 mm spacing.

•    Detection combing is applicable on both dry and wet hair, but it takes less time to comb dry hair. Wet combing is more precise since the conditioner stops the head lice movement.

Wet Detection Combing

Wet combing includes the use of a special fine-toothed comb to remove the head lice. Wet combing procedure includes:

•   Washing the hair using normal shampoo and conditioner.

•   Straightening and disentangling the hair using a normal comb with wide teeth.

•   Replacing the normal comb with the louse detection comb once the hair is completely straightened.

•   Combing the hair from its roots to the ends using the comb’s teeth edge in slight contact with the scalp.

•   Checking for lice in the comb after every stroke. Wipe the comb with tissue paper or cleanse it to eliminate lice.

•   Comb the hair bit by bit to ensure thorough combing.

•   Repeat the process for at least one more time until you do not see any more lice.

Do a check up for lice on all your family members if you notice head lice. All infected people should be treated simultaneously. 

Dry Detection Combing

Dry combing procedure includes:

•    Straightening and disentangling the hair using a normal comb with wide teeth.

•    Replacing the normal comb with the louse detection comb once the hair is completely straightened. 

•    Ensuring the edges of the comb’s teeth edge are in slight contact with the scalp and the teeth are inserted into the hair roots.

•    Combing the hair from its roots to the ends in every stroke.

•    Check for lice as you pull the comb through the hair. If you identify a louse, press it against the comb with your thumb finger to prevent the repulsion by static energy.

To ensure that the hair is combed thoroughly, divide it into sections and comb each. Comb each part three or four times before tending to the next area.

Treatment for Head Lice

Apart from wet and dry detection combing to help deal with head lice, there are various other treatments to help deal with the problem of lice. Treatments are available in pharmacies and medical shops and you do not really have to consult a doctor if you have head lice. The main treatments used in dealing with head lice include the following:

•    Use lotions or hair sprays that kill head lice. These are generally very effective but make sure to take the right one after consulting your pharmacist as some sprays and lotions are not suitable for pregnant women.

•    Use a specially designed comb to remove the lice. You should use this comb several times a day because removing lice can be a long and slow process and it needs to be done thoroughly.

Some treatments are ineffective against head lice. These include products that contain permethrin, head lice repellents, electric head lice combs, tree and plant oil treatments and the usage of certain herbal remedies.

Apart from the treatment methods, lice can also be prevented using the following techniques:

•    Do not share personal belongings such as hairclips, combs, hairbrushes or hats. This will help prevent the spread of lice.

•    Wash your clothes regularly.

•    If there is a lice infestation at home, you should make sure to vacuum the floor and the furniture regularly and cover the furniture for up to two weeks with a plastic cover.